The Worst of 2020

“All of it,” I hear you cry. Yes, ok, ha ha, very funny. Obviously I’m specifically talking about the worst films of 2020.

Regular readers will know I normally include this list in my “best of” post — a sort of counterbalance to any chance of relentless positivity; a reminder that, for all the smooth, there’s always some rough. Maybe we don’t need that kind of thing for 2020, but tradition is tradition. Of course, putting this list in its own post is some kind of break with tradition anyway. But the reason is simple: I’m still working on my “best of” list — it’s a long’un, being 10% of my total viewing, and this being my biggest year ever. That also means the “best of” post will be a plenty long enough read without this little dose of misery in there. So here it is by itself instead.

A quick reminder: I select my best and worst lists from all 264 films I saw for the first time in 2020, not just new releases.



The 5 Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2020

As revealed in my stats post, I only handed out two one-star ratings this year. In retrospect, perhaps I was too generous, because to get this “worst of” selection down to just five films I had to leave out several movies that I really, really disliked. Here’s what I pared it down to, in alphabetical order…

Hunter Killer
This throwback-ish techno-thriller really wants to be an exciting submarine adventure in the mould of The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide, but it can’t rise above the level of ‘wannabe’. It’s mired with an implausible plot and bizarre casting (Gary Oldman is prominent in the marketing, but he’s barely in the film itself). It just doesn’t have the smarts to successfully emulate the Tom Clancy style it so desperately aspires to.

Lovers Rock
Sight & Sound ranked this the best film of 2020. Its appeal clearly isn’t limited to the arthouse crowd, because Empire ranked it 7th in their list. But I didn’t get it at all. If you told me director Steve McQueen tricked the BBC into paying for an elaborate ’80s theme party by just filming it, sticking some credits on his raw footage, and handing it over with the claim “yeah, this is a real movie — it’s got a screenplay credit and everything”, I’d believe you.

The Man Who Sleeps
Never mind being one of the best films of the year — this was ranked as one of the 250 best films of all time by Letterboxd users. It’s dropped off that list now, but not before I bothered to watch it, unfortunately. Like Lovers Rock, it’s a crushing bore; 70-something minutes spent watching a man do virtually nothing. Un homme qui dort? More like Un homme qui t’endort. [Full review]

Some Beasts
A family’s trip to a remote island goes awry when interpersonal tensions overflow into arguments and abuse. It’s a bit slow and self-consciously arty, but that’s not its real sin. That comes in the final 20 minutes, when it throws in an extreme plot development with no time — nor, I think, inclination — to responsibly engage with its consequences. I’m loathe to call any film “offensive”, but this probably comes the closest of anything I’ve seen. [Full review]

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman: The Movie still stands up as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Its sequels show you how a franchise can die. 2 and 3 are bad enough, but The Quest for Peace is by far the worst — a joyless anti-nuclear polemic, with low production values and iffy storytelling. The only bright spots are the talented returning cast, but they’re better appreciated by just rewatching the first one again. [Full review]


The 26 best films I saw for the first time in 2020.

Some Beasts (2019)

aka Algunas Bestias

2020 #225
Jorge Riquelme Serrano | 97 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | Chile / Spanish

Some Beasts

Sometimes, one thing can ruin an entire movie. Depending on how harsh a critic you are, I’d say that’s quite rare. Unless it’s threaded throughout the entire film (like, say, a terrible lead performance, or a consistently poor cinematography decision), a small constituent part would have to be truly horrendous to take the entire rest of the movie down with it. Some Beasts is one of those films. The problem arrives in the final 20 minutes, which makes it a massive plot spoiler. Out of some lingering respect for storytellers, I provide this spoiler warning; others would argue content of this nature doesn’t deserve such courtesy.

Anyway, before I get to that: the film’s first hour-or-so. It’s about a family — mum, dad, teenage son and daughter, and their maternal grandparents — travelling to a small island near Chile that the mum & dad have just bought. They want to turn its ramshackle house into a luxury hotel, and they want her rich parents to stump up some money. They’re a snobby bunch — not horrendously so, but with that creeping sense that their grumpiness isn’t just a bad day, it’s a lifelong sense of entitlement. They’re accompanied by a guide, but after he’s accused of being inappropriate towards the daughter (which he wasn’t) and he’s groped (against his protestations) by the grandmother, the family wake up the next day to find he’s disappeared, stranding them on the island.

Some Beasts is labelled as a thriller, but there’s not much thrilling about it. By the halfway point, people are literally sat around staring into space… On the surface, it’s just a family on a bad holiday; but there are obvious interpersonal tensions, which combine with some occasionally ominous music and unusual shot choices (like a series of straight-down bird’s eye views that open the film) to lend a mildly unsettling atmosphere. As the film goes on, their behaviour gets worse, but it’s in small increments on a long sliding scale.

Abusers

Later, they all play a board game. And we watch. In real time. And we join it halfway through, so you’re not going to know what the game is or how it’s played. Then the tensions explode and everybody’s arguing. The whole of this unfolds in one long static take, which is either an impressive bit of staging and acting or just directorial showing off, depending how you want to take it. I tend towards the latter, given what happens next.

The final 20 minutes suddenly throw in a very sensitive and emotive subjective, presenting it in a deliberately provocative fashion. To be clear: the grandfather gets into bed with the teenage daughter and rapes her. Like the board game, this is presented in a couple of long static wide shots, meaning we witness more-or-less the whole thing. A raft of questions are posed. Is this the first time? The daughter seems awfully accepting of it. Not that she likes it, but is resigned; she barely protests. If not, when did it start? There’s only been the vaguest hints earlier in the film about the grandfather’s feelings. Who knows about it? Because there are some cutaways that suggest some of the other characters know what’s going on. And the next morning, it seems like they all know — so when did they find out? And what happens next? Because there’s no blazing row; no calm confrontation, either. They all sit around a bit more, looking shocked… then get in a boat and go home. The end. It’s like there’s not enough screen time to deal with the subject in sufficient detail, so the film doesn’t even try. Except, of course, that it’s the filmmaker who decides the running time and the pacing. There’s no “oops, I introduced a serious issue too late in the day and now I don’t have time to examine it properly!”

Because the film doesn’t actually explore with the topic it’s raised, that means we’re left primarily with the manner of its presentation. That seems consciously designed as an assault on our sensibilities via a brazen depiction of something morally abhorrent. Rather than any meaningful engagement with the multitude of questions and issues it raises, it pokes at us for a reaction, being about as provocative as a child saying a rude word at an inappropriate moment — the scene, and its explicit detail, exists only to say, “look how edgy I am! Look how I’m prepared to show things that shouldn’t be shown!” I’ll be the first to argue that depicting something is not necessarily to endorse it (cf. the endless stupid debates about Scorsese’s oeuvre), but when the Bad Thing goes as unexamined and unpunished as it does here, one starts to wonder about the real intent of the filmmaker.

Abused

The first hour or so of Some Beasts is mostly uneventful; the final 20 minutes are offensively ill-judged. I don’t think you get to throw something that serious into your film, and shoot it so provocatively, without also tackling what it means. You can’t take something that so profoundly affects people who’ve suffered it and treat it in such an off-hand manner. Taboo subjects can and should be tackled in films, but you have to engage with them in thoughtful and meaningful ways, not use them as something shocking for the sake of being shocking. The ending is so egregious, it kicks aside what value there was in the earlier portion of the film. It actually made me feel kind of angry, which is not the kind of reaction I normally feel towards a film.

Some Beasts is well made, in its way, but it’s a bad film.

1 out of 5

Some Beasts is screening on AMPLIFY! until Sunday. It featured on my list of The Worst Films I Saw in 2020.

The Horrific Monthly Review of October 2020

Don’t be fooled by the title, dear reader: I’m not one of those people who spends all of October watching horror movies. But the world we live in is horrifying enough for that adjective to apply to pretty much any month this year, isn’t it?

So as England prepares — not for No Time to Die, as we’d hoped for from November — but for Time to Try Not to Die in Lockdown 2, let’s look back at the month that was the tenth in the seemingly-never-ending year that is 2020…


#219 Lancelot du Lac (1974), aka Lancelot of the Lake
#220 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
#221 Patrick (2019), aka De Patrick
#222 Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)
#223 The Good Liar (2019)
#224 Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
#225 Some Beasts (2019), aka Algunas Bestias
#226 Luxor (2020)
#227 The American President (1995)
#228 Down with Love (2003)
#229 Puzzle (2018)
#230 Misery (1990)
#231 The Mole Agent (2020)
#232 Waxworks (1924), aka Das Wachsfigurenkabinett
#233 Vampires Suck (2010)
#234 The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
#235 Tim’s Vermeer (2013)
#236 Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Patrick

Tim's Vermeer

Crazy Rich Asians

.


  • I watched 18 new feature films in October.
  • That’s in the lower-middle for 2020 so far — 7th out of 10 months, to be precise.
  • Unsurprisingly, then, it fails to equal my 2020 average (previously 24.2, now 23.6).
  • It also fails to equal my rolling average for the last 12 months, but as last October was so poor (just four films), it still increases the average, from 19.9 to 21.1.
  • Continuing on the bright side, it surpasses the October average (previously 13.2, now 13.5).
  • #236 is also the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of October, besting #222 in 2018.
  • You might think that makes 2020 a lock for my #1 year ever, but it’s not so simple (as my previous overviews of predictions have shown). There are 26 films to go to a new record — 13 per month for November and December, which sounds very doable (my worst month this year totalled 12), but it’s worth noting that the November average is 10.4 and for December it’s 11.2, so never say never.
  • As for the once-seemingly-possible target of #300, that would mean 32 per month in November and December. Literally, not impossible (I’ve managed over 30 in two consecutive months twice before), but also not likely (I’ve only managed over 30 in two consecutive months twice before). Time will tell…
  • This month’s Blindspot film was supposed to be An American Werewolf in London. For most of the year I’d had that singled out to be October’s pick, for obvious reasons. I considered watching it earlier in the month, but decided to leave it for nearer Halloween. Then as Halloween neared I thought, “why not save it for the day itself?” Because Halloween is the last day of the month and the best-laid plans are apt to be upended, that’s why not! So, yeah — oops. I’m aiming to watch it today to catch up quickly.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Crazy Rich Asians and The Good Liar.



The 65th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I watched a lot of films I liked this month — indeed, there was only really one choice for the “least favourite” category. But in terms of favourites, it was quite easy to single one out, too, because one film really blew me away: Tim’s Vermeer, a documentary about the point where art, technology, and obsession meet. It’s fascinating and genuinely awe-inspiring.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I was able to watch a few screeners this month for films showing as part of AMPLIFY! Maybe it’s wrong for me to pick one of those here (shh, don’t tell anyone!), but, well, Some Beasts was easily the worst film I watched this month. Not because it’s badly made, but a final-act plot swerve struck me as wholly distasteful and poorly handled. More on that whenever I get round to reviewing it.

Most Layers in a Title of the Month
Before viewing, I wondered if Crazy Rich Asians was about Asians who were crazy-rich or rich Asians who were crazy. Turns out, it’s both! So many layers! (Two. That’s two layers.)

Most Penises of the Month
One of Borat’s most famous scenes may be a nude wrestling/chase scene between two men, but that’s got nothing on Patrick, a whole film set in a nudist camp. (Don’t let that turn you off / switch you on, mind — there’s a lot of good stuff in Patrick, and the nudity is fairly incidental.)

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
…goes to my latest TV column again, for the fourth time this year. I’ve gotta say, this one did have one of my favourite header collages I’ve put together (the entire thing uses mirroring! Me so clever). (The highest film-related post was a distant second, Bloodshot.)



At one point I was over a month ahead on my Rewatchathon goal for the year. That lead has been slowly eroded, and now I’m officially one film behind. Still, with just two months to go, it’s certainly not impossible that I’ll get there.

#40 Live and Let Die (1973)
#41 Mystery Men (1999)

As a Bond film, Live and Let Die will get my ‘Guide To’ treatment at some point. For now, I put some thoughts on Letterboxd.

Superhero comedy Mystery Men was included in my 100 Favourites series back in 2016, but I hadn’t actually watched it in a decade or more. I’m happy to report that I did still enjoy it. It takes a while to warm up — basically until the whole team has been introduced, which takes longer than you might think — but, once it gets there, it’s frequently gold. Will it make the next iteration of my 100 Favourites list? It’s more borderline than I might’ve expected. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is very enjoyable overall.


Big titles have continued to flee, and with a new lockdown cinemas will be closing again, but a few releases did sneak out in the meantime, like acclaimed horror Saint Maud, and… um… Cats & Dogs 3? Eesh. London Film Festival organised outreach screenings across the UK, but the only one that made it into the schedule at my local was closing-night film Ammonite. And in the sort-of-cinema column, Robert Zemeckis’s re-adaptation of The Witches went straight to premium streaming. I wouldn’t pay £16 for a rental of that anyway, so the mixed-to-poor reviews certainly didn’t sway me.

Another re-adaptation, The Secret Garden, finally had a cinema release, but having been sold off to Sky as a Sky Cinema Original, it was more readily accessible at home. This month the streamer also offered up Underwater, Seberg, and films not starring Kristen Stewart, like Waves. But Now TV finally stopped giving me good cut-price offers to resubscribe, so I likely won’t be able to consider watching any of those until next Oscar season, when I resubscribe to watch the ceremony.

The other two big streamers had some significant originals too. Netflix offered yet another re-adaptation of classic English literature, Rebecca, plus Aaron Sorkin’s latest, The Trial of the Chicago 7; plus David Attenborough bio/polemic, A Life on Our Planet, and another Adam Sandler thing, Hubie Halloween. Over on Amazon, the headline grabber was Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (as you might’ve noticed in my viewing list, I finally watched the original in preparation, but haven’t watched the sequel yet), and a quartet of original chillers from Blumhouse — Black Box, The Lie, Evil Eye, and Nocturne — which I don’t think have garnered great reviews, but which look interesting nonetheless. Amazon also boasted another quartet this month: the Indiana Jones series. I’ve been meaning to rewatch them forever — indeed, I’ve owned the Blu-ray set since 2012 and never watched it. I ought to get round to that before they turn up on 4K and I buy them again…

And talking of purchases, I’m still failing to stop myself buying tonnes more stuff. Indy may not be on 4K yet, but that other Spielberg-related ’80s geek trilogy, Back to the Future, did make its bow on the format this month. Of course I bought it. I nabbed an even bigger box set in Amazon’s Prime Day sale: the Universal Classic Monsters complete 30-film Blu-ray set, which includes 38 films (because, thanks to Universal’s lazy bundling of existing sets, there are seven duplicate movies in the set (whole discs could’ve just been taken out), and one film they only count as an extra, the Spanish version of Dracula). Other horror-ish pickups included Indicator’s new Fu Manchu set (officially out tomorrow; I’ve already watched the first (#234 above)); Japanese classic House; and another Universal / James Whale / Boris Karloff effort, The Old Dark House (which I watched on streaming back in June and loved). New releases included interactive DC animation Batman: Death in the Family, 88 Films’ latest Jackie Chan classic, Spiritual Kung Fu, and an import of Requiem for a Dream in 4K (it’s out in the UK later this month, but the import was cheaper). Finally, a few more to rewatch in 4K, thanks to a 3-for-2 offer: Bad Times at the El Royale, Die Hard, and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Whew!


Lockdown 2: Covid Boogaloo.